By Luise Gleason, Marketing & Communications Coordinator

People are in need for two reasons: Either decisions they’ve made or circumstances beyond their control. In either instance, hunger should not be the price they have to pay. That’s why the Food Bank Coalition, it’s non-profit agency partners, donors, volunteers and advocates have been working relentlessly for 30 years to alleviate hunger in SLO County and build a healthier community. As we came together on Friday, September 20, 2019, to celebrate our county’s response to hunger relief efforts, some members of our community had a chance to express their thoughts on the impact that we make every single day. We have compiled the words that were spoken to ensure that they continue to echo out into our county.

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Nutrition Program Manager Melissa Danehey (left) informing speakers (from left to right) John Klevins, Todd Talley and Erica Ruvalcaba-Heredia.

“The Food Bank Coalition of San Luis Obispo County helps us with the social determinants of health which encompasses health education and work in the community to assure that the systems that provide food security – one of the main sustainers of life and quality existence – continue to exist.” – Dr. Penny Borenstein, Director of Public Health

“The Food Bank Coalition of San Luis Obispo County operates from a mission to alleviate hunger in this county for a healthier community. On behalf of the California state assembly, the state senate, assemblyman Jordan Cunningham and senator Bill Monning, congratulations to the Food Bank Coalition of San Luis Obispo County for celebrating its 30th year serving the constituents in the community of San Luis Obispo County.” – Keilah Smith and Annie Frew, Office of Jordan Cunnningham, Office of Bill Monning

“It is just amazing what has been accomplished over 30 years. It couldn’t have happened without the donors, the volunteers, and the local farmers in this county who are always ready to supply fresh produce and healthy food to the community, not only for people in need but also for all the other non-profits that work across the county. They all are a very large part of what makes this county such a unique place to live.” – Debbie Arnold, Chair of the Board of Supervisors

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Food Bank Coalition CEO Kevin Drabinski, Warehouse Assistant Manager Cliff Mendez, Partner Services Clerk Matt Althoff and John Klevins from Transitions Mental Health / SLO Police Dept.

“It’s a common misconception that the Food Bank Coalition is a government-funded operation that just cruises along. In reality we rely on donations. About 75% of our operational funds come from donors that help us fund our operations. We spend about $200,000 per month, so it is a big obligation for us to go through and manage that over time. For those of you who contribute your time and your money, we want to say thank you.” – Steve Davis, Board President of the Food Bank Coalition

“Serving our community is critical, and the impact we have on others is the most important thing for us at the Community Foundation. In working with the Food Bank Coalition, we can touch lives every day. A good friend of mine recently started volunteering at the Children’s Farmers Market in Paso Robles. She was helping the elementary school children when she noticed a little girl that seemed a little hesitant. My friend said, “Would you like some apples to put in your back?” The little girl answered, “That would be great. I love apples!” As the girl opened up her backpack, she pulled out her lunch so that it wouldn’t get crushed, but all she had was just a little bag filled with only four crackers and one cookie. That was supposed to be her lunch! If it hadn’t been for the Food Bank Coalition, that little girl would have had four crackers and a little cookie for lunch. That is the kind of impact the Food Bank Coalition has every single day.” – Heidi McPherson, CEO of Community Foundation San Luis Obispo County

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Heidi McPherson, CEO of Community Foundation San Luis Obispo County, with Mary Verdin from Verdin Marketing and Jorge Aguilar, Principal at the Wallace Group.

“The Food Bank Coalition is a lot more than just food. It’s this entire building, it’s the people who support the distribution process, it’s the trucks, it’s the staff who manage volunteers and make the food available to over 77 different non-profit partners and it’s the special programs that the Food Bank Coalition sponsors. “ – Jim Sargen, Philanthropist

“We are one of those non-profits that the Food Bank Coalition partners with. Our partnership goes way back, and it is a vital part of our existence. We run a senior nutrition program that changed their name to Meals That Connect about three years ago because it more clearly describes what we do. We don’t just deliver food to seniors; we connect with them and give them a chance to socialize. We serve approximately 1,600 individuals countywide. We deliver free, nutritious meals every day to homebound seniors and we also provide dining at our eleven dining sites throughout the county. Our partnership is dependent on the regular distribution of fresh fruits and vegetables from the Food Bank Coalition. We also get to use the meat from the California State Fair which means beef, pork and lamb get to go onto our menus. We are also an outlet for the Food Bank Coalition to distribute fresh produce and bread at our dining sites to seniors.” – Juliane McAdam, Meals that Connect

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Jim Sargen, Philanthropist

“It has been a pleasure for the Promotores to attend at the Food Bank Coalition distributions at five sites – three in Paso Robles, one in Shandon and one in San Miguel. We create trust and provide education to the Latino community. We share the importance of eating healthy to prevent chronic diseases and we share smiles so that they feel welcome. We also provide recipes that are cultural appropriate for this specific group. Something I have observed is that the Latinos feel ashamed and often do not want to take away food from other families. We tell them that we have plenty of food available and that it is there for them to come and use it.” – Erica Ruvalcaba-Heredia, Director of Promotores Collaborative of SLO County

“As farmers, we are committed to changing the lives of our employees, our customers and our community by providing fresh produce and encouraging healthy eating habits. It is our desire that as many people as possible reap the benefits of consuming daily more fresh fruits and vegetables. We understand that getting enough fresh produce isn’t always the reality for the needy in our community and we don’t want lack of resources to prevent folks from engaging in healthy eating habits. We are honored and proud of our partnership with the Food Bank Coalition over the last several years providing them with fresh fruits and vegetables on a weekly basis. And we are so thankful for the work of the Food Bank Coalition. Our hope is that by providing this fresh produce to Food Bank Coalition customers they will continue to pursue these healthy eating habits once they get back on their feet. We are happy also to work with GleanSLO who organizes volunteers to finish harvesting our fields and thus saving produce from becoming waste while at the same time providing more healthy produce for those most in need. With the shortage of labor to harvest our crops, which is a real reality for us these days, volunteers provide an invaluable service to both us farmers and the needy in our community. We look forward to many more years of supporting and partnering with the Food Bank Coalition of San Luis Obispo County.” – Todd Talley, Talley Farms

“I got a phone call one afternoon from RISE about a young lady with epilepsy and bipolar disorder. She was at RISE because she had experienced physical abuse from her boyfriend. Initially, she had come out to California with big dreams, but unfortunately it did not work out that way. She stopped taking her meds, went into meth, eventually became homeless and lived under a bridge. When I met her – a very small and fragile young lady who had been through a lot – she looked at me and asked if I can help. I told her that I can and that I would get her back to her family. So we called grandmother Rose from Texas who cried the whole time during our phone call because she hadn’t heard from her granddaughter for six months and didn’t know where she was or whether or not she was alive. So my Community Action Team bought a bus ticket with the help of TMHA’s family reunification program, and we put the girl on a bus the next morning. Because of the wonderful work the Food Bank Coalition does, we were also able to give her a backpack full of food which sustained during the long bus ride.” – John Klevins, Transitions Mental Health / SLO Police Dept.

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Juliane McAdam from Meals that Connect and Food Bank Coalition CEO Kevin Drabinski.

“We have offered dinner every Monday night in Morro Bay at the Veterans Hall for 298 consecutive nights and we have served over 21,000 people since we started. The Lion’s Club of Morro Bay has an agency partnership with the Food Bank Coalition which means that we are able to purchase food at reduced prices. The Food Bank Coalition has always been remarkably accommodating to us and without this partnership, we probably could not continue our services. The food we get is used in two different ways. One way is as a source of ingredients for the dinners themselves because feeding one hundred people is not cheap. The other way is by giving out food for free on a food table every Monday night.” – Linda Fidell, Estero Bay Alliance for Care (EBAC) Food Group Committee

“The people that work for the Food Bank Coalition program are amazing. They are incredibly friendly, very accommodating, always accessible and just a pleasure to work with. In our program, we have 250 students. They are the children who are receiving food through the Children’s Farmers Market. Every time the produce comes, they get very excited because they get to create the market with tables, boxes of produce and fake money. It’s always so cute to see the little ones carrying the big bags full of food to their parents when they show up. The families are very grateful because food is so expensive, especially produce. So we truly appreciate the partnership and we look forward to many more years of working together.” – Kim Gaspar, Afterschool Safety & Education program (ASES)

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Thank you to everyone who made the time and effort to celebrate with us!

Thank you to everyone who made the time and effort to celebrate with us! It has been an incredible 30-year journey for the Food Bank Coalition. We place ourselves at the intersection of needs and resources on a daily and hourly basis. And in the exercise of our mission there is a good chance that we change lives for the better. What is also true is that our community of agency partners, our volunteers, and our staff are also changed, enriched, and educated as a result of these encounters with the neighbors we serve.